Residents of the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem have prepared a cemetery plot for the fatalities of the third intifada, although speculation of another armed popular rising seemed premature in the camp this week.
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“We don’t want another intifada,” says Fatah leader in Dheisheh Mohammed al-Jafari, facing the rows of new, empty graves. “We are the last generation you can make peace with. There’s a five-year window of opportunity.”
The new plot is near a small graveyard where dozens of martyrs from Dheisheh are buried. Anyone killed in clashes with Israel is a martyr to them − including youths who threw stones at military vehicles, armed militants who died in clashes with soldiers and suicide bombers.
The West Bank has undergone a turbulent week. The death of Arafat Jaradat, of the village of Sair between Bethlehem and Hebron, sparked a series disruptions of order, leading to speculations of a third intifada.
In the past, the refugee camps Dheisheh, al Aroub and Aida spearheaded the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel. Dheisheh residents boast that the intifada there started in 1980. Every day thousands from Dheisheh took to the roads to throw stones at soldiers and settlers driving past between Jerusalem and Kiryat Arba.
Finally the IDF broke down and built a wall between the camp and the main road.
In the second intifada the suicide bombers who rocked Jerusalem came from these camps.
At the gate to Aida stands a giant key, symbolizing the keys to the refugees’ old houses of 1948. On the wall nearby someone painted a portrait of six local prisoners jailed in Israel. A mural in an alley depicts a map of Israel in Palestine colors, marking all the villages in Jerusalem and the plain that the refugees had come from.
But the older generation does not agree with the younger generation on how to deal with the situation. The older ones think the diplomatic course espoused by PA President Mahmoud Abbas is much more important.
“A demonstration in Paris is better than one here in Bethlehem,” says al-Jafari. “In recent years many people have come here from Europe, they saw the occupation and returned to work for Palestine.”
In the past year the Palestinians sent the giant key to a biennale focusing on Palestine in Germany. The reactions were excellent, he says.
The younger generation, however, is spoiling for a fight. At a procession in Dheisheh marking the Fatah’s 48th anniversary in January, youngsters brandished weapons. Young people from al-Arroub this week threw stones at cars on Route 60 until IDF troops drove them away.
Teens and children from Aida have been throwing stones, firebombs and grenades toward Rachel’s Tomb, located in a Muslim cemetery adjacent to the camp, for the past four months. A few years ago Israel surrounded the site with walls. During Operation Defensive Shield 75 firebombs were hurled at it within an hour. A catapulted explosive charge passed over the wall and exploded in a soldiers’ guard post, which was empty at the time.
Every clash with soldiers is filmed from local rooftops and uploaded onto YouTube. Following the disturbances, the Border Police troops in the area have been reinforced by snipers and commandos.
On Monday an IDF soldier shot a Palestinian youngster in the chest. In another case, an IDF unit entered Bethlehem and fired rubber-coated bullets at a boy. One bullet entered his brain and he is now hospitalized in a critical condition in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.
People in Aida say the soldiers provoke them. “Sometimes they fire gas for no reason,” a grocery store owner says. “They want to provoke the kids to throw stones so they can shoot them. They want to push us into a third intifada.”
“If you tell them there’s no point in throwing stones they call you a Shin Bet collaborator,” says al-Jaffrey. “So we ask people their age to tell them they’re wrong. It would be a shame to have young people killed here.”